Chicago choir group helps people overcome homelessness, drug addiction

A local choir group is using music to help people overcome homelessness, drug addiction and other traumatic experiences.

Emanating from the rafters of old Saint Pat's Church is the sound of healing.

“[As a child, music] just took me to different places. I could be faraway, places to escape my reality,” said Amanda Brown.

That happiness quickly faded, finding herself a runaway at 14 on a journey that would take her to the West Coast, lonely, addicted to drugs and eventually pregnant.

It was the outcome, she says, of a childhood that forced her to grow up quickly, raising both her sisters, mostly, in the absence of parental guidance. Bringing her to try, desperately, to outrun memories of a traumatic childhood that always seemed to catch up.

“I’m doing any and everything to get one more - one more drink one more drug,” Amanda said. “I’m on this search for a person, a place or thing that's going to make all this all right.”

A place of darkness lit only by the harmony of hope.

Marge Nykaza spends days using her background as an opera singer to run “Harmony, Hope and Healing” -- an organization built to travel to jails, to homeless shelters and to treatment centers to heal the wounds of addiction and hopelessness, using music as a mechanism far more powerful than any drug.

Marge and Amanda met at a women's shelter where Amanda lived with her child as she battled her addiction to heroin, developing a bond so tight in the years since that during our interview, Amanda cried while talking about her past.

Marge, sitting just out of the camera shot, became moved, herself, by emotion and felt the need to share a hug.

“So many have gone through so many traumatic experiences and trauma,” Marge said. “Someone like Amanda who came in saying I don't have a voice here.”

But she's found not just her voice, since, but sobriety, too.

Come this July, Amanda will mark 12 years clear of addiction. Where she once found solace in substances, she now finds hope in music.

“I wasn't held back by anything. Music allows you to be whoever you want to be,” Amanda said. “Everything I’ve been looking for outside of me has been inside of me and music was the vehicle that brought me to myself.”

Amanda is using her experience to help others like her, now working as a counselor at a homeless shelter.

And next fall, she will add a new title to her name: college graduate. After getting her GED while in prison, at one point, Amanda will graduate from DePaul with a bachelor's degree in addiction treatment.